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Half a million users drop Finland's Covid tracing app

Health agency THL reports 1.8 million people are now using the Koronavilkku app, down from 2.4 million at the beginning of this year.

Kuvassa on älypuhelin, jonka ruudulla on auki Koronavilkku-sovellus.
File photo of the Koronavilkku Covid tracing application. Image: Silja Viitala / Yle

More than half a million fewer people are using Finland's coronavirus tracing Koronavilkku (roughly translated as 'corona flash') application compared to the beginning of this year, according to figures provided by health agency THL.

More than two million people initially downloaded and began using the application after it was rolled out last year, with that figure rising to 2.4 million by January this year, but THL's figures for July show that the application currently has 1.8 million users.

"People may have changed phones, become tired of the situation or have not seen that the application has any great benefits," Asko Järvinen, infectious disease specialist with Helsinki and Uusimaa hospital district (HUS), said.

Although the release of the app was initially greeted with much enthusiasm, registering one million downloads within the first week, medical experts have continually questioned the app's capabilities, arguing that its tracing abilities are limited.

An Yle survey of six hospital districts, conducted last March, also found that medical professionals believed the application was doing more harm than good in identifying infection chains.

Järvinen told Yle that infection tracers have been frustrated with the app because it does not reveal exactly when and in what situation a potential exposure has taken place.

Nevertheless, he added that he believes the application could still have an important role to play in curbing the current spread of infections.

"However, if you think about young people in this situation and the fact that contact tracers have a backlog, then the application could be useful when young people meet each other. If the Koronavilkku flashes an alarm, then they would know to be careful and apply for a test," he said.

Not all exposures can be traced

The City of Helsinki has recently launched a web page which lists public places where potential exposures could have occurred.

Dozens of locations have so far been added to the list, including the Allas Sea Pool, Linnanmäki amusement park, several different gyms, and many bars and restaurants.

"In Helsinki, all exposed people can no longer be traced and exposures are more intense in places where the exposed person or exposed people do not know each other, such as in bars or restaurants. In these situations, the [Koronavilkku] application can be very useful," Järvinen said.

Terhi Heinäsmäki, an infectious diseases doctor with the City of Helsinki, told Yle that she also considers the Koronavilkku app to be potentially useful, as the application provides valuable information about how and where the virus is moving.

"If the app flashes and a person knows that he or she was not wearing a mask somewhere, then it is probably significant," she said.

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